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Health: How we almost lost our father and mother to poisonous gas from charcoal, By U.K. Umar

Health: How we almost lost our father and mother to poisonous gas from charcoal, By U.K. Umar



A few years ago, It should be around 2013 – 14. I was in Zaria during an M.A programme. One cold morning, my sister called me and was crying on the phone. “What is the problem Zainab? Quit crying and talk to me.” She couldn’t say a word but kept sobbing. I ended the call and thought of calling my younger bother, Muhammad (Ifan) but Zainab’s call came through again and as soon as I picked, she said “It’s Yaman and Nna!”


For half a second I thought my parents had a misunderstanding or something (which by the way was very strange because for over three decades I had been their first child, I never noticed their bad moments). “What is it? Did they quarrel?” I sought clarification.”No, they slept and they haven’t been able to wake up. They have just been taken to the hospital” she said amidst sobs.

Truth is, before that clarification, my mind had traveled far and wide including the possibility of death and I thought I had it together; you know, how you think you are ready to face the vagaries of whatever life throws at you. But in that moment, I realized no one can ever be fully ready to lose his loved ones – two at the same time. No.

I ended the call with Zainab and called Muhammad. He tried to calm me by making light of the situation adding that everything is under control. I ordered him to quit that and tell me what happened. His emotions and voice betrayed him and he started sobbing as he narrated what happened that morning.

My mother is by nature, the first person to wake in the house for subhi (early morning prayer). She’d then proceed to wake every other person in the house by going to their doorsteps. That morning, they didn’t hear from her nor did my father do his own usual follow up of waking whoever is yet to wake after my mother must have woken him.

My brother led the subhi prayer expecting my father to join them but that never happened.

After the prayer, they all felt something was not right. Muhammad went to my mothers room and knocked a number of times but it was all quiet. Then he went to the window and pushed the glass to the side. That was when he saw our parents lying unconscious; father on the bed, mother on a mat on the floor with foams on their mouths.

By the time Muhammad finished telling me what happened, I had already packed a few clothes. That journey from Zaria to Bida is still my longest journey ever. Something about distance and a troubled human mind.

On the bus from Zaria to Kaduna, I sat close to a young man. I noticed his eyes were wet with tears and had to ask what the problem was. He said they just informed him that his father had passed away. I sympathized with him and thought whether I should share my own situation with him. I did and that helped both of us. He ended up praying more for my parents throughout the duration of our journey to Kaduna before we went our separate ways.

I got to Federal Medical Center Bida around 5pm or so. At the A&E I met my parents still unconscious with oxygen masks fixed on them. It is still the scariest sight so far.

About an hour later, I was sitting on a chair between the two beds when my father flinched and opened his eyes from possibly the longest sleep he’d ever had. I was the first person he saw. His childhood friend, Alhaji Shehu was standing by too. He looked bewildered on realizing that he was on a hospital bed and I was standing right there with him when just a day before, we had spoken on phone and I told him I was preparing for my tests.

A nurse came and removed his Oxygen mask. “What am I doing here and you, are you not supposed to be in Zaria?” That elicited the first laughter of the day. His friend stepped in with a joke. My mother was still sleeping, unconscious.

I had earlier asked to see the doctors in charge but they were busy doing ward rounds. A nurse came to inform me that one of them is back and would see me. I asked to know what the problem was and the doctor said their preliminary examination revealed that they had both inhaled an excessive dose of Carbon Monoxide.

“Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odourless, tasteless gas produced by burning gasoline, wood, propane, charcoal or other fuel.” I read this on a site I googled.

My father would later explain that the previous night, my mother had complained of excessive cold. He drove out that night and got charcoal from a seller. They set the charcoal to warm the room and slept off. That was it. They both inhaled carbon monoxide and passed out.

My mother took about three days on admission before she was discharged. This, according to the doctor, was because she had more of the poisonous gas in her blood stream.

A further reading on Carbon Monoxide showed that it causes dull headache, weakness, dizziness, nausea or vomiting, shortness of breath, confusion, blurred vision, loss of consciousness and ultimately death!

My mother, while at home, about a month or so after being discharged from the hospital, felt and showed all of these signs apart from death. It is the most devastating episode yet in our family. My mother lost her memory, she could neither sit or stand on her own. She was moved from normal ward to psychiatric ward from where after about a month or so, we resigned to fate and had to take her home to continue the care. We were though advised to ensure she gets enough fresh air at all times.

Eventually, a traditional medicine man was recommended and we took her to meet him in his village. Through mixture of herbs and roots and some physiotherapy, my mother, within weeks, was back to normal. It is the biggest miracle in my world yet.

We have entered a season where cold is reported to be extreme in some parts of the country. Many people are using different measures of keeping warm including the use of camp gas inside rooms. Some, like my parents did, are using charcoal in enclosed rooms. You may want to be cautious.

Improperly ventilated appliances and engines, particularly in a tightly sealed or enclosed space, may allow carbon monoxide to accumulate to dangerous levels as it happened in my parent’s case.

Let me quote a medical article I read on this poisonous bastard;

“Carbon monoxide poisoning can be particularly dangerous for people who are sleeping or intoxicated. People may have irreversible brain damage or even die before anyone realizes there’s a problem. If you think you or someone you’re with may have carbon monoxide poisoning, get into fresh air and seek emergency medical care.”

It wouldn’t hurt to share this on as many platforms as you have; you could be saving someone.


About Mikail Mumuni